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Reading Notes

Jacques Ellul. Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Trans. Konrad Kellen and Jean
Lerner. New York: Random House, 1973 [1965].

Intro by Konrad Kellen

v E. prop as "a sociological phenomenon rather than as something made by certain people for
certain purposes." It is a function of technological society. It is not just lies, rather it operates
with many different kinds of truth-half truth, limited truth, truth out of context.
vi Prop above all seeks to "lead men to action."
French title of his book is Propagandes the plural is crucial. His most crucial distinction is
between agitation propaganda (leads people from resentment to rebellion) and integration
propaganda (seeks to make people adjust to desired patterns; technological society needs this to
Modern propaganda cannot work without education; it is the prerequisite for p (and often
identical with it in fact).
vii Is there such a thing as good and wholesome propaganda? E. claims "that no one can use this
intrinsically undemocratic weapon. . .unscathed or without undergoing deep transformations in the

ix P. "has become a very general phenomenon in the modern world." There are three great
propaganda blocs: USSR, China, US. They rep three "entirely different types and methods of
Propaganda systems (less advanced than the three blocs): socialist republics of Europa and Asia
(modelled after USSR); Germany, France, Spain, Egypt, S Vietnam, Korea (less elaborate and
rather diffuse forms of prop); Italy and Argentina (which no longer use this weapon).
x All are concerned with the effectiveness of p.
Uncertainty about the phenomenon itself:
(1) Fear that it is evil.
(2) Belief that prop is only lies.
xi Extreme difficulty of definition.
American writers have by and large accepted Lasswell's definition:
"Propaganda is the expression of opinions or actions carried out deliberately by individuals or
groups with a view to influencing/ xii the opinions or actions of other individuals or groups for
predetermined ends and through psychological manipulations."
His concern is not to define; he wants to conduct an "analysis of the characteristis of propaganda
as an existing sociological phenomenon." It will look at "past and present forms."
xiii Various spheres of propaganda:
Psychological action.
Psychological warfare.
Re-education and brainwashing.
Public and human relations.
xiv Prop "as a phenomenon is essentially the same in China or the United States or Algeria."
xv It "has become an inescapable necessity for everyone."
xvi E. sees propaganda as "a direct attack against man"; it renders the true exercise of democracy
almost impossible.
xvii P. "is a menace which threatens the total personality."

xviii Prop cushions us from the controlling and integrating effects of technological society. "In the
midst of increasing mechanization and technological organization, propaganda is simply the means
used to prevent these things from being felt as too oppressive and to persuade man to submit with
good grace."

Chapter I: The Characteristics of Propaganda

3 P is "a technique rather than a science" a modern technique based on science (esp. psychology
and sociology).
4 It is scientific "in that it tends to establish a set of rules, rigorous, precise, and tested."
We need to analyze "both the environment and the individual to be subjected to propaganda."
5. One wants to control the use, measure the results, define the effects of prop.

1. External Characteristics
6 Any modern prop has to address itself at the same time to the individual and to the masses.
7 Individual is always considered as a part of a larger group, as part of a mass.
8 "The mass man is clearly subhuman, but pretends to be superman."
9 "The most favorable moment to seize a man and influence him is when he is alone in the mass: it
is at this point that propaganda can be most effective."
"Propaganda must be total" propagandist must utilize all of the technical means available.
10 "To draw the individual into the web of propaganda, each technique must be utilized in its own
specific way, directed toward producing the effect it can best produce, and fused with all the other
media, each of them reaching the individual in a specific fashion, and making him react anew to
the same themein the same direction, but differently."
Man is thus surrounded on all sides.
"The tools of propaganda are thus oriented in terms of their public and must be used in a
concerted fashion to reach the greatest possible number of individuals."
"The movies and human contacts are the best media for sociological propaganda in terms of
social climate, slow infiltration, progressive inroads, and over-all integration."
Important is that "not one of these instruments may be left out: they must all be used in
combination. The propagandist uses a keyboard and composes a symphony."
11 "It is a matter of reaching and encircling the whole man and all men. . .We are here in the
presence of an organizing myth that tries to take hold of the entire person. . . This myth becomes
so powerful that it invades every area of consciousness, leaving no faculty or motivation intact."
Prop is not happy with partial successes; it wants to destroy all contradiction. (Hence the role of
self-criticism in Communism.)
12 "Propaganda carries within itself, of intrinsic necessity, the power to take over everything that
can serve it." It "takes over the literature of the past, furnishing it with contexts and explanations
designed to re-integrate it into the present."
13 Direct propaganda (which is direct and hard) must be prepared by sociological propaganda
(which is softer and creates a context). "The ground must be sociologically prepared before one
can proceed to direct prompting." Sociological propaganda is plowing, direct p is sowing.
Covert prop seeks "to hide its aims, identity, significance, and source." It is a kind of black
propaganda. Here one pushes one's supporters in a certain direction without their being aware of
Overt propaganda is open and straightforward (white propaganda). One admits that prop is
being made; source is known (Ministry of Prop); intentions are made clear: e.g., attacking
Propagandist must use "both kinds, to combine them, for they pursue different objectives."

17 Prop is continuous and lasting. It makes people live in a separate worldand people should
"not have outside points of reference. He must not be allowed a moment of meditation or
reflection." Every moment must be occupied.
20 Propaganda has to have an organization so that it can be omnipresent. Mass media have to be
controlled and used correctly. Organization must be administrative. One needs to have technicians
of influence. Prop, in other words, "is always institutionalized to the extent of an existence of an
24 Discussion of the human touch of propaganda: this human contact is false and mere pretense.
The propagandist is not a real individual, but merely a voice of the organization. "In the very act
of pretending to speak as man to man, the propagandist is reaching the summit of his mendacity
and falsifications, even when he is not conscious of it."
25 Argues against the notion that propaganda is a form of manipulation meant to change beliefs
and opinions. The aim of propaganda, in fact, is not to modify ideas, but to provoke action. It is a
matter of loosening reflexes. "Only action is of concern to modern propaganda, for its aim is to
precipitate an individual's action, with maximum effectiveness and economy."
26 "The participation may be active or passive; active, if propaganda has been able to mobilize the
individual for action; passive, if the individual does not act directly but psychologically supports
that action."
27 "To be effective, propaganda must constantly short-circuit all thought and decision. It must
operate on the individual at the level of the unconscious."
"The propagandist knows what objective should be sought and what action should be
accomplished, and he maneuvers the instrument that will secure precisely this action."
28 Prop is effective "when it obtains convergence, coexistence of a multiplicity of individual
action-reflexes whose coordination can be achieved only through the intermediary of an
29 Action makes prop's effect irreversible. If you act in obedience to prop, you cannot go back.
You are obliged to believe in that prop because of your past action (which otherwise might seem
unjust or absurd). Action demands more action. One has taken one's place in society (and thus
now has enemies).
30 Repeating an action makes it seem just.
31 Pre-propanda is preparatory, it "proceeds by psychological manipulatins, by character
modifications, by the creation of feelings or stereotypes useful when the time comes." The two
main routes of this approach are conditioned reflex and the myth.
Prop tries to create myths that will guide men, i.e., all-encompassing and activating images, "a
sort of vision of desirable objectives that have lost their material, practical character and have
become strongly colored, overwhelming, all-encompassing, and which distance from the
conscious all that is not related to it. . . Eventually the myth takes possession of a man's mind so
completely that his life is consecrated to it."

2. Internal Characteristics
33 A propagandist cannot go contrary to what is in an individual; he can't create something new.
34 The propandist must know his context and his audience; he must speak to them. One cannot
attack accepted opinion that has mass consensus.
35 An adroit prop will seek action without demanding consistency, without fighting prejudices and
images. One can alter opinions by diverting them from their accepted course, by placing them in
an ambiguous context. Existing opinion is not to be contradicted, but to be utilized.
36 In any event, prop cannot create something out of nothing. "It must attach itself to a feeling,
an idea; it must build on a foundation already present in the individual." Prop is confined to

existing material:
1. Psychological mechanisms: prop knows how the individual will respond to certain stimuli.
2. Opinions, conventional patterns, and stereotypes exist concretely in a particular milieu or
3. Ideologies exist which are more or less consciously shared, accepted, diseeminated.
4. Prop must above all be concerned with mass needs and desires.
38 Prop can be creative. "And it is in complete control of its creations; the passions or prejudices
that it instills in a man serve to strengthen its hold on him and thus make him do what he would
never have done otherwise."
Prop does not aim to elevate man, but to make him serve.
39 Prop must address itself to collective sociological presuppositions (e..g, man's aim in life is
happiness, man is naturally good, history develops in endless progress, everything is matter) and
to social myths.
40 Myth expresses great inclinations of a society. "It is a vigorous impulse, strongly colored,
irrational, and charged with all of man's power to believe. It contains a religious element."
Our society's two great myths: science and history; other great myths (work, happiness, nation,
youth, hero).
41 Propaganda "not only reflects myths and presuppositions, it hardens them, sharpens them,
invests them with the power of shock and action."
43 Propaganda must be timely. It must allow for a volative immediacy. The timely event that we
consider "worth retaining, preserving, and disseminating is always an event related to the
expression of the myths and presuppositions of a given time and place."
44 Prop can succeed only when people feel challenged (not satisfied and comfortable). For that
reason it must begin with current events.
46 Prop's appeal must have the power to break the barrier of the individual's self-interest and
indifference. For that reason prop relies on striking effects that do not permit time for thought or
47 And prop knows that people will always easily forget. The citizen of current events is thus an
easy target for prop, "lacking landmarks, he follows all currents."
51 Three principles:
1. The propagandist must place his propaganda inside the limits of the foci of interest.
2. The propagandist must understand that his propaganda
52 has the greatest chance for success where the collective life of the individuals he seeks to
influence is most intense.
3. The propagandist must remember that collective life is most intense where it revolves around a
focus of interest.
Propaganda and Truth
Commonly propaganda is considered to be lies. Two public attitudes:
1. 'Of course we shall not be victims of propaganda, because we are capable of distinguishing
truth from falsehood.'
2. 'We believe nothing that the enemy says because everything he says is necessarily untrue.'
53 But propagandists often do tell the truth in the sake of their cause. Goebbels thought it
necessary that one on occasion distribute accurate facts.
E. distinguishes between
-the facts (materials) and
-intentions and interpretations (moral elements).
59 "Propaganda is necessarily false when it speaks of values, of truth, of good, of justice, of
happinessand when it interprets and colors facts and imputes meaning to them. It is true when it

serves up the plain fact, but does so only for the sake of establishing a pretense and only as an
example of the interpretation that it supports with that fact."
60 The lie was an essential instrument for Hitler, but "this was not just a falsification of some
figure or fact. . . It was falsehood in depth."
61 A definition: "Propaganda is a set of methods employed by an organized group that wants
to bring about the active or passive participation in its actions of a mass of individuals,
psychologically unified through psychological manipulations and incorporated in an

3. Categories of Propaganda
Some basic distinctions: Political and Sociological Propaganda:
62 Political Propaganda this is in general the type that usually comes to mind when we hear
the word propaganda. "It involves techniques of influence employed by a government, a party, an
administration, a pressure group, with a view to changing the behavior of the public." Its methods
are deliberate and calculated; goals are clear and precise. Themes and objectives tend to be
political. It can be either strategic or tactical. Ideology is disseminated for the purpose of making
various political acts acceptable to people.
It can be most clearly distinguished from advertising: it has political (and not economic) ends.
Sociological Propaganda - "the group of manifestations by which any society seeks to integrate
the maxiumum no. of individuals into itself, to unity its members' behavior acc. to a pattern, to
spread its style of life abroad, and thus to impose itself on other groups."
63 Its influence aims more at an entire style of life "than a opinions or even one particular course
of behavior."
Example: propaganda of Christianity in the Middle Ages. Advertising as well, which is "the
spreading of a certain style of life." Also public relations, human relations, human engineering, the
motion pictures.
"Basically it is the penetration of an ideology by means of its sociological context."
The existing economic, political, and sociological factors progressively allow an ideology to
penetrate individuals or masses."
64 It is essentially diffuse; it is a general climate, an atmosphere that gets to people as custom and
habit, a sort of persuasion from within. "As a result, man adopts new criteria of judgment and
choice, adopts them spontaneously, as if he had chosen them himself."
This kind of propaganda is not deliberate or conscious; it springs up spontaneously.
The various discourses of a society are in basic accord with each, they lead in the same direction:
one hesitates to call this propaganda.
65 "These influences are expressed through the same media as propaganda. They are really
directed by those who make propaganda."
"Such activities are propaganda to the extent that the combination of advertising, public relations,
social welfare, and so on produces a certain general conception of society, a particular way of
66 Soc prop "must act gently. It conditions; it introduces a truth, an ethic in various benign forms,
which, although sporadic, end by creating a fully established personality structure."
This kind of prop is not effective in a moment of crisis.
67 "What starts out as a simple situation gradually turns into a definite ideology, because the way
of life in which man thinks he is so indisputably well off becomes a criterion of value for him."
When one uses a way of life as a criterion for good & evil, one makes judgments.
68 This is crucial in the US as a means of psychological standardization: "to use a way of life as
the basis of unification and as an instrument of propaganda."

Economic consequence as well: "Mass production requires mass consumption, but there cannot
be mass consumption without widespread identical views as to what the necessities of life are."
Propaganda of agitation/Propaganda of integration:
71 Propaganda of agitation visible and widespread, it attracts most attention. Most often
subversive and has the stamp of opposition. It seeks rebellion or war. It reached its height with
Lenin. This is characteristic of most of Hitler's propaganda: constant agitation, overexcitement,
straining energies to the utmost.
72 It stretches energies and demands sacrifices, it promises drama and adventure. It can obtain
effects only of short duration.
73 People "cannot be made to live in a state of perpetual enthusiasm and insecurity." Hate is an
effective resource. Or call to liberty and freedom among the oppressed.
74 "Given the ease of releasing such sentiments, the material and psychological means employed
can be simple: the pamphlet, the speech, the poster, the rumor."
Propaganda of integration the propaganda of developed nations, characteristic of our
civilization. Did not exist before modern times; it is a propaganda of conformity.
75 It "aims at making the individual participate in his society in every way. It is a long-term
propaganda, a self-producing propaganda that seeks to obtain stable behavior, to adapt the
individual to his everyday life, to reshape his thoughts and behavior in terms of the permanent
social setting." It seeks to stabilize the social body, to unify and reinforce it. It is the preferred
instrument of government (properly speaking it is not political propaganda).
76 "It seeks not a temporary excitement but a total molding of the person in depth."
Vertical and horizontal propaganda:
80 Vertical propaganda one tends to think of classical prop as vertical (top down): the leader
"acts from the superior position of his authority and seeks to influence the crowd below." The
propagandee is always alone, even in a crowd. The crowd is passive material that one grips and
acts on. It is especially useful for agitation.
Horizontal propaganda e.g. Chinese propaganda and group dynamics in human relations.
81 The first is political, the second sociological prop; both are integration propaganda.
It is made inside the group (not from the top), where in principle everyone is equal and there is no
leader. The goal is conscious adherence. Leader is only a facilitator and animator. Typically
discussion is in small groups. "Each individual helps to form the opinion of the group, but the
group helps each individual to discover the correct line. For, miraculously, it is always the correct
line, the anticipated solution, the 'proper' convictions, which are eventually discovered."
Rational and irrational propaganda:
84 Rational propaganda information is addressed to reason and experience; it furnishes facts,
statistics, economic ideas. Soviet use of facts to demonstrate, rationally, the superiority of its
system and to demand support.
85 Such an appeal is still propaganda.
Irrational propaganda it is addressed to feelings and passions. This kind of appeal, E. claims,
is disappearing: "It is unusual nowadays to find a frenzied propaganda composed solely of claims
without relation to reality."
We like facts for they convince us that what we are doing as a reasonable basis. "Propaganda's
content increasingly resembles information."
86 But after reading great gatherings of fact, we above all retain a general impression, an overall
image. And this is, in fact, an irrational picture, a purely emotional feeling, a myth: "only the
impression remains." The trick is "to create an irrational response on the basis of rational and
factual elements."